Dispute Settlement Counsel by Michael Zeytoonian.
It’s the most talked about dispute in New England and in sports these days. Deflategate. But really, how important is this issue? Whether the league rule was violated and footballs were intentionally deflated to a weight less than the range allowed. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being most important, this topic is a 1, if that. Ask anyone who ever played football, at any level.
Fans don’t really care about slight deviations in the inflated weight of the football either. The kinds of deviations in this case don’t matter and have no impact on the playing or the outcome of the game. A violation of the rule calls for a fine of $25,000. This is insignificant stuff.
The closest comparison I can think of is probably that of a hockey player who has an illegal curve on his stick that is beyond the league rules. If a referee finds an illegally curved stick, I believe it’s a two minute or five minute penalty in the penalty box during that same game where the violation occurred. The equivalent in football would probably be a half the distance to the goal line penalty and an automatic first down, and maybe a $10,000 fine?
Nonetheless, this issue is being dwelled on ad nauseum by the sports media, by fans, and even casually interested people when asked about it. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was about the only person that put it in its right perspective, saying she wished the NFL spent 10% of the time and energy spent on this issue on something important like domestic abuse. Relative to this, a football player who was caught on video sucker punching his fiancé in an elevator –indisputable evidence – was given less of penalty than Tom Brady initially has received for a situation in which no evidence has been presented that links Brady to the alleged violation. Yet this insignificant matter has taken on a life of its own, leaving all kinds of collateral damage to everyone involved in its wake.
Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, much to the emotional disappointment of his team’s fans, has been the lone beacon of sanity and courage by deciding to take the high road and not contest this any further. It cost the Patriots $1,000,000 and two draft picks, a penalty everyone acknowledges as being way too much. Yet Kraft chose to put down their weapons and take the first and hardest step toward defusing the already out of control spiral.
The classy response for the NFL would be to also put down its weapons as well, and take the $1,000,000 and give it to some efforts to educate children and prevent domestic violence, child abuse or drug abuse. Commissioner Goodell could still do this, step up above the fray, consider the matter now closed and urge people- media, fans, players and owners alike – to turn their focus to what really matters.
Goodell has a chance to raise it up here. Bob Kraft has opened that door for him by being man enough to stand down. Except for the Brady haters of the world, Tom Brady individually is irrelevant in this. And we don’t need a hearing or appeal to figure this out. Fourteen years of seeing and hearing him carrying himself the way he has is a far more compelling body of evidence of whether he would have intentionally broken a known rule or not. Everyone knows Tom Brady well enough by now to know the truth here. Quarterbacks have preferences when it comes to the firmness of the football and we all know that his preference is a less inflated football. We also know that he always plays within the rules. His role in this is irrelevant because he is a member of the team, as are the two equipment guys. The team has been held responsible and the team has relented without a fight. End of an already too long story.
The NFL commissioner now has a choice to make, and he really only has one good choice. He can take the high road that Kraft has already taken, benevolently decide that the matter is now fully resolved without an appeal process and put the matter to rest and behind us all. Or he can worry about his image, his ego and “winning”, take the low road and prolong this lunacy out even further, creating more collateral damage for everyone involved in its wake. Prolonging things will further negatively impact the league, the union, Brady, the Patriots, the opening night, the raising the banner celebration (which most likely either won’t happen or will be very ugly if Brady is suspended) and yes, even Indianapolis Colts who started this whole thing. But ironically, most of all it will negatively impact the Commissioner himself, because keeping this issue alive and having to make any decision either way is already a lose-lose for Goodell, one that he will not be able to recover from.
It’s hard to take the high road, especially in a testosterone-jammed stage like the NFL and sports media. But in the long run, it’s always the better choice.
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